Hope your Father’s Day is just ducky

GranDad on his Father's Day duck

GranDad on his Father’s Day duck

Making ducks for Father’s Day

When my son was a (very verbal) toddler, he noticed that flatulence sounded like a duck quacking. One day, his grandfather was umm, feeling gassy, and did what comes naturally. Nic said loudly and with amusement, “GranDad, you made a duck!” My dad the linguist was enchanted by the phrase, and a lifelong silly inside family joke was born.

A Mardi Gras duck mask purchased by my mischievous father. celebrated on this Father's Day

Sometimes, the joke was a mask at Mardi Gras.

A duck jigsaw puzzle I made, which would make a great Father's Day gift.

Sometimes, it showed up in other ways, such as this duck-themed jigsaw puzzle I made. But it’s been a running joke for well over a decade.

Last month, we visited our little place on Fowl River that’s close to where my parents live in Alabama and everything broke – the air conditioner, the boat, the refrigerator, the car, the air mattress. Dad did everything he could to help us fix it all, as he always does.

We knew he’d check the place after we left, especially after all the disasters. So, we bought a seven foot inflatable duck we saw at Walmart. The morning we departed, we inflated the creature, wrote Dad a Father’s Day card, and left it waiting for him in the living room.

Ever practical, he says he is going to use it for naps.

Dad’s lasting influence

I love you, Dad. Everyone says they have the best dad there is. All I know is that my horizons are limitless because I grew up with a dad who

  • * Assured me I could do anything I set my mind to and
  • * Encouraged my brother and me equally at a time when that equal opportunity thinking was not necessarily the norm.

My father, my role model

Aside from his sense of mischief, scatological or otherwise, my father is a great role model because he

  • * Loves to learn all things, whether poetry, science, math, history or what have you;
  • * Shows me that a road trip is as much about the journey as the destination
  • * Demonstrated by his lifelong love affair with my mother that marrying someone who challenges me, lights me up, and I love with all my heart is the only reason to get married.
  • * Defines success as a balanced, happy life that includes family time; interesting career and life experiences and accomplishments; financial security; a wide circle of friends and acquaintances; being of quiet help to others; and ever-evolving new interests.

Dad, you also suggested – more than once – I be selective and avoid drama. Maybe not overshare. I’m still working on those .

I sure love you, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day to you and all the dads out there who occupy the same special place in their children’s heart that you do.Those of us with great fathers never lose our (not inconsiderable) smidgen of hero worship. It’s a unique and irreplaceable intersection of love, fun and joy, tinged with more than a little childish awe.

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Aaron, the time-traveling purple alien – a sad blast from the past

Here's to Darryl, the time traveling purple alien

Here’s to Aaron, the time traveling, sea-faring purple alien, and all childhoods haunted by abuse and loss.

“I got a story ain’t got no moral…let the bad guys win every once in awhile…”

Billy Preston, “Will it Go ‘Round in Circles”


(Aaron’s name and a few other details have been changed out of respect for the privacy of all involved.)

In the late 1980s, I worked with children who lived in a group home. They ranged in age from eight to twelve, and most came from abusive backgrounds. Aaron was one of those children: eight or nine years old, a sweet, tow-headed, funny, fiercely loyal little boy, with loving mischief and a unique abundance of childhood magic soothing and lighting his wounded soul.

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In support of school choice

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Today, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the proposed school voucher program here in Douglas County. This is a shame, particularly because the ruling focuses on upholding something called the Blaine Amendment, a piece of religious bigotry found in state constitutions dating back to the Grant administration in the 1870s. Its original intent was to keep poverty-stricken Catholics out of the public school system and simultaneously deprive them of any public assistance to set up their own parochial schools. We now link it to the Establishment clause, the separation of church and state, in the Constitution. But Blaine Amendments are quite different: they’re more restrictive and more discriminatory.

Fast forward one hundred years. When I was in fifth grade at Mary B. Austin Elementary School in the early 1970s, my neighborhood school was the most wonderful learning environment in the world to me. We children came from various religious, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but I don’t remember those even being mentioned. Austin was a meritocracy, lacking much if any social stratification. Our talents were encouraged, challenged and supported.

In sixth grade, our little class moved to a larger middle school that was being desegregated. These new students, white and black, were behind us academically, but far ahead of us in worldliness. At that school, I remember:

  • A teacher coming to school drunk and going to sleep during class.
  • A student with a hypodermic needle chased a terrified friend of mine around the gym.
  • My father correcting teachers’ grammatical errors when I brought assignments home for parental signatures.
  • Classmates telling graphic stories about sexual experiences when most of us Austin kids, pre-teens all, had yet to even hold hands with someone.

The next year, my parents sent my older brother and me to St. Paul’s Episcopal School. Thanks to St Paul’s excellent academics, my brother and I were both National Merit Scholars. We both went on to obtain advanced degrees. We’ve had good careers (well, he’s had a great one.) We’ve seen the world as one of opportunity.

I wonder just how many of those children at that middle school perceived similar opportunity. They did not have the chance to move to a private school like we did. (For one thing, at that time, few private schools in Alabama had many black students. Now, thankfully, most are more diverse.) Mostly, though, private schools were, and are, expensive. School choice may lessen the limits poverty imposes on opportunity, irrespective of race.

I’ve followed this issue in my native Alabama and now in Colorado, for years. The Blaine Amendment continues to perpetuate the segregation of expectation and opportunity, just like we saw in 70s Alabama. Logistical challenges will arise however we try to improve our education system.  However, vouchers provide children with expanded educational opportunities. They let parents choose the best environment for their families. They are a good idea.

Here are some common misconceptions.

Vouchers promote religion.Most, if not all, voucher programs have restrictions in place to ensure voucher students are not required to participate in religious instruction and activity. Vouchers are not about evangelizing religious beliefs. Vouchers are about making educational opportunity available to all. Some private schools have simply figured out how to better prepare their students for college than the current public school system. Students deserve the opportunity to attend these excellent schools.

Vouchers are meant to give rich parents discounts at private schools. They are meant to do the opposite – to give students whose parents have aspirations but not the financial means to achieve them the chance to broaden their children’s options. We can break the poverty cycle through better education. These schools provide better education. We can give more students access to better schools.

Vouchers are meant to get rid of the entire public school system, starve neighborhood schools, and change the system to a for profit model. The vast majority of parents – me included – support  neighborhood schools. My son has attended public schools throughout his academic career. I loved my own neighborhood school. However, if a neighborhood does not have a good school, do we just count those children’s lost academic opportunity, their trajectory, as a sacrifice that has to be made to sustain the overall current public school model? Or do we look at ways, including vouchers, to make sure each child gets a great education?

Bad schools are only a problem in <fill in the state, but usually Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi… anywhere but the state where a voucher program is under consideration.>There are bad public schools everywhere, in every state. This argument can only be made by someone who lives somewhere sheltered from the challenges in other less secure, less affluent, neighborhoods.

Times have changed. Your experience in 1970s Alabama is no longer relevant. A few years ago at a middle school football game with my son, I fell into conversation with the wife of the coach of the opposing team, which was from Denver. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that some of the boys’ parents were addicted to crack, so she made sure to pick those kids up and give them a ride to a safe place each night after practice. She said that they had a team sleepover each year, and it was quite a sight when the boys lined up “out the front door” to use the one bathroom in the coach’s home.

Her quiet courage and commitment were awe-inspiring. All played a rousing game of football that day, and everyone had a great time. But I was left with the knowledge that the challenges her boys faced here in supposedly wealthy Colorado were akin to those in 70s Alabama. Their life experiences were just as alien to my son’s safe suburban life, much further away than the 20 miles we drove to the game. Vouchers could help some of those boys, aided by a committed adult like that coach’s wife, escape bad family backgrounds, aspire to more, and someday help someone else.

If any of those kids have the chance to get an excellent education, however that can be achieved, I’m in. Children who are given the chance to excel early, in the learning environment best for them, have the best chance at a fulfilling life. Parents should have the choice about where their children should attend school. Providing school vouchers for these children, giving them an opportunity they deserve and might otherwise not even know exists, seems an excellent investment of public money.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge to the Blaine Amendment –  perhaps at the Supreme Court level. It may take a few years, but so did many other great efforts when people sought to ensure equal opportunity for all. This is a worthwhile cause.

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A good time for a great cause

October 19 11-3 at Festival Park in Castle Rock, Colorado: The Manasi Project's first annual festival fundraiser to help children get school supplies

October 19 11-3 at Festival Park in Castle Rock, Colorado: The Manasi Project’s first annual festival fundraiser to help children get school supplies

What: Music, food and fun in support of The Manasi Project
When: Sunday, October 19, from 11-3
Where: Festival Park, downtown at 300 Second St. Castle Rock, CO 80104 (Across from Daz Bog between Perry and Wilcox on Second Street)
Why: raise funds for school supplies for the children of Hopkins Village, Belize
How much: brown bag lunches for a suggested donation of $5.00; soft drinks and Krispy Kreme doughnuts available as well
More information: www.manasiproject.org; phone 720.364.6875; email (infoplease…at…manasiproject.org)

I’ve written about my son Nic’s experience with the Young Entrepreneur Academy of Douglas County, a program sponsored by the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce. It was transformative. In just 30 weeks, Nic created a not-for-profit to help children all over the world obtain educational supplies. He was mentored by area business leaders and Chamber personnel, which simultaneously strengthened his self confidence (“These successful business people think my idea can work!”) and made him aware of areas he might need to bolster his knowledge (“I really need to get organized.”)

It began with SCUBA

YEA brought an idea Nic had nurtured for a long time to vivid life. For several years, we spent every Thanksgiving in Hopkins Village in south Belize. We live in the very center of the United States, and I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so I miss my warm water and sugar white beaches. When Nic turned ten years old, we took him to a class at Planet SCUBA in Castle Rock and got him certified in SCUBA diving. Rob, whose approach to diving is as close to Zen as I’ve seen, taught us carefully and thoroughly, and we all three did our dives with him at the Blue Hole in New Mexico. (We’ve been on several trips with Rob and Planet SCUBA since, to Mexico, and they are world class. We are so lucky to know them.)

The first trip to Hopkins Village

For our first series of dives, Ryc had already found Hamanasi, in Hopkins Village, and we took Nic there for his first SCUBA trip in 2008. It was – also – transformative. The local divemasters took care of him like he was their own. They joked with him, initiating him into that wonderful brotherhood of men who love being on and in the ocean water. He felt like he belonged.

Floods damage the area

We came back each Thanksgiving for several years. One year, the area had sustained some ruinous flooding. Houses were profoundly damaged. The school had been affected. The roads, basic by nature, were rutted and washed out.

Nic asked about what we could do. The manager of guest services, Karina Martinez, suggested he concentrate on school supplies. Life intervened back here in Colorado, and we were unable to visit for awhile. But he never forgot. He stayed in touch with Karina.

YEA provides a welcome impetus

When Nic decided to sign up for the YEA, he opted for a not-for-profit to help those kids he so vividly remembered. We talked about what to name the organization he wanted to found. We discussed the idea of charity. Nic said that charity sounded nice, yet somehow condescending. He wanted something that emphasized the respect he felt for the people in Hopkins. So, he asked Karina for various ideas in the local Garifuna language, and she suggested Manasi, which means respect.

He put together a business plan; asked people he respected to serve on his board of directors – including Karina, because having a local contact in each area is integral to his concept;  got his tax id and other paperwork in order, and his not-for-profit was born. Every step took longer than we thought it would.Every step, though, he met new people who offered help, expertise, encouragement and – once he is set up to accept it – money.

And now…we shall see what happens next

Finally, though, his first fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday, October 19. Nic is taking his first set of supplies to Belize in November. He is going to try to  make a difference for people who were kind to him when he was so young. The local business people here in Colorado have also made a difference for him by encouraging his dream. Someday, the children he helps may make a difference for someone else. That’s pretty much what life’s about, when life is good, when we share our goodness, when love and respect abound. Manasi.


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Who’s censoring whom?

censorship and the jeffco colorado school board protests

It’s easy to say no. What’s difficult? Saying, “Let’s talk about what we each think – and see where we can achieve agreement.”

Censorship and the Jefferson County student protests


1. an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, cablegrams, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds.
2. any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.
3. an adverse critic; faultfinder.

The quote that started it all

“Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” Julie Williams, Board of Education member, Jefferson County, Colorado

Whoever controls the narrative, controls history

“The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily written as the history of its dominant class.” Kwame Nkrumah said. He was a socialist, in early 20th century Africa, distressed that the local culture was being destroyed by the British colonialists’ educational efforts – particularly the matter-of-fact assumption that the local culture was not worth maintaining in the face of what the British thought was clearly superior British philosophy. Censorship, in other words, is the enemy of peaceful and progressive multiculturalism. So who, in this case, is being repressive or censorious?

The issue

 This week in Colorado, we have 700 students in JeffCo “rebelling against censorship” by marching out of class. They’ve attracted worldwide attention and support, which is great – except they are not protesting censorship. They’re protesting the recommendation by one person, board member Julie Williams  – who, perhaps, is not blessed with eloquence – that the local school district has the right to review the AP history curriculum. So, the students are “rebelling” by protesting her awkward wording (“I don’t think we should encourage our kids to be little rebels.”) Really? Because I encourage my son to think critically, and that means he will, occasionally-to-frequently in his lifetime, rebel. As I have. As his father has. As anyone has, who is dissatisfied with the status quo. As Julie Williams has, against the College Board.

The entrenched

     The College Board supports the students. Of course they do. They are the central authority, and they are delighted to see students support their viewpoint. It does not hurt that their viewpoint is informed by lessons learned by protesters in the 60s, although “don’t trust anyone under 30” is noticeably absent these days. But the absurdity is that both sides of the political debate support peaceful protest and some level of civil disobedience. Neither supports an excess. Yet the College Board does not support Julie Williams’ peaceful-yet-rebellious suggestion that the local board of education appoint a committee to review the proposed curriculum.

The irony

The College Board does support the dissension the students voice against Ms. Williams. They apparently do not support the concept that a local, elected advocate like Ms. Williams can question their national mandate – not put to any vote, of course – on what students will learn about history. It’s a shame we are letting ourselves become so polarized that agreeing to discuss this substantial curriculum change is viewed as somehow truncating free speech or disrespecting the expertise of the College Board.  So, free speech-wise, some individuals’ dissension is more equal than others’ dissension, and George Orwell is proven right again.
     Ms. Williams is also dissatisfied with the status quo. She is protesting the powerful, national, un-elected monopoly the College Board has on what all U.S. students in advanced placement history courses will learn. Her rebellion, rightly executed within the role she was elected to serve, has been entirely overwhelmed by the public outcry.  The narrative presented by the news outlets inaccurately yet repeatedly portrays this as an attempt by local bigots to impose censorship on our children.  That determined slant is alarming.

Something to ponder

      The students are protesting censorship over what they learn…by supporting the censorship inherent in the idea that no (small) local authority has the right to contest how a (small) national committee decides history is to be taught to all U.S. students.  Ms. Williams has been called a fascist. Perhaps we should redefine fascism as not just “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization” but a “local, belligerent (yet not rebellious, because rebellion is admirable, not problematic) entity or individual who presumes to question the overarching authority of an appointed national board.” Samuel Adams springs to mind.

If you’ve studied history…

      A student movement rebelling by supporting centralized authority on anything is disconcerting, at least to me. (See World War II for how well that turned out for everyone involved.) If we study world history, youth movements that supported centralized national governments were typically not viewed as independent thinkers breaking any kind of new ground. But, perhaps, I am missing something.

My view

     As for the history curriculum, I’ve seen the sample tests. And, as a largely apolitical libertarian, and the parent of a history-loving junior who is going to take this course, I think evaluating the curriculum is a worthwhile endeavor. Incidentally, my son’s history teacher may be the best teacher he has had thus far. I trust his stewardship of this framework. But that does not remove my right to discuss and critique it.


    There’s a balance here. Our children should learn about what we’ve historically done well in these United States of ours, so they can replicate and improve upon it.  Some parts of our history are unique and admirable. Our emphasis on the meritocracy, the opportunity presented to individual excellence, is unique in the world, even today.
     There is also, indisputably, value in learning about where we’ve erred to a painful degree…and thus, what we need to change in the future. I don’t find most people are too far apart in what they want to see in the curriculum. Yet, there are those who seize a moment to make a political point…and here we are.

Freedom is…

Real freedom is creative, proactive, and will take me into new territories. I am not free if my freedom is predicated on reacting to my past.

Kenny Loggins
Students, if you are reacting, protesting, rather than making your own path, you are still letting the forces you rail against control you. That’s not rebellion, that’s reaction. Figure out what you want to change and make it happen. It’s the best way to lead your life rather than let someone lead it for you.
Parents, teachers, and other interested bystanders…if you’re publicizing this latest kerfuffle for any reason other than to ensure a dialogue between administrators, teachers, parents, and students regarding the best possible education for our Colorado students, please don’t ever carp about political garbage again, because you have intentionally chosen to be part of that problem, not the solution. We are better than that, all of us.
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Top ten ideas for Lent

Top ten ideas for Lent

Lent is traditionally viewed as a time for sacrifice. It is actually a time for personal transformation, sometimes achieved by sacrifice, always by appreciation and generosity to others.  Over the next 45 days, try some of the ideas below – consistently – and see how your life is positively changed.

Try seeing the world through others’ eyes. Seek the divinity in every person you meet. Look for the child they once were, innocent and full of wonder. See the grace and, perhaps, wisdom they now bring to your day. Notice what makes them special and tell them. Thank them for enriching your life. You’ll make them happy and you’ll change yourself for the better. Simple, really.

  1. Write a letter each day to different individuals, telling them why they are special to you and why you are grateful they are in your life.
  2. Think daily of an enemy, even the person who’s hurt you the most. Thank God for their presence in your life, and ask that they be blessed.
  3. Give up complaining and negative behavior.
  4. Spend time in a nursing home or visit someone who is convalescing at home.
  5. Try the four kinds of prayer each day. WOW –something wonderful. THANKS – gratitude for a blessing. Shhh – listen and discern. Help – ask for guidance.
  6. Call the people you need to talk to. Give up texting.
  7. Make “found money” – the money you find in the couch, on the floor, wherever it turns up – God’s money, and give it to the poor.
  8. Spend time with your spouse, partner or significant other, talking, having fun, praying. Strengthen your relationship. Intentionally develop a new mutual interest.
  9. Take a picture of something you are thankful for each day and hang them somewhere you can see them.
  10. Volunteer. Perhaps at a homeless shelter, a food bank, a crisis center, a children’s home, or a pet shelter…wherever your gifts would make someone else’s life better. It will be transformative.








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